The Sea Kings Spell It Sock-er : Palos Verdes ‘Fighter-Squadron’ Defense Holds 13 of 16 Foes Scoreless
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to get into the middle of a dogfight, Palos Verdes High School’s soccer team could give you a pretty good imitation.
Just ask Mission Viejo’s Max Moore, Orange County’s leading goal scorer. He knows. He got into a heck of a scrap last week in the Fountain Valley Tournament when he tested Palos Verdes’ defense and came away empty-handed.
Moore shouldn’t feel bad. Sixteen teams have tried to score against Palos Verdes this season. Three have succeeded.
Palos Verdes’ defense, led by ace stopper Gregg Swartz and goalkeeper Mark Antrobius, is a swarming, talkative unit.
When the ball enters their zone, the Sea Kings raise as much chatter as a fighter squadron in a melee. Every player suddenly becomes another player’s wingman, shouting directions and warnings.
“It’s beautiful,” Palos Verdes Coach Alan King said. “They handle telling each other what to do on the field. I can just sit there on the sidelines, get red-faced and yell.”
King’s face has been red--with the glow of victory--a lot of late. Over the last 12 months, Palos Verdes has racked up 35 wins against one loss. For King and his Sea Kings, 1988 was a very good year indeed.
Palos Verdes’ only loss came in last season’s Southern Section 4-A semifinal when the Sea Kings were shot down, 2-0, by Royal of Simi Valley. This season the team has jumped off to a 16-0 start and has captured three tournament crowns, the last title coming with five starters on the bench with injuries.
And they’re beginning to think of some other magical numbers: like 29-0.
“I think these kids were born bigheaded,” said King, whose team won its Bay League opener Wednesday, a 1-0 victory over Hawthorne. “Before our very first game, they were saying they’re gonna win ‘em all. Even if we would have started 0-1, they’d still say they were the best.”
The scary thing is that they might actually be the best. When USA Today’s national prep soccer rankings come out, the Sea Kings could be tops in the country.
The Sea Kings have scored 46 goals. Led up front by forwards Paul Kaemmerer, Doug Kay and Jeff Bowers, Palos Verdes’ offense is explosive.
But the key to Palos Verdes’ unbeaten streak is the defense--a grim, tight-lipped, man-to-man unit which, if it played football, would have to have a nickname such as the Purple People Eaters or the Doomsday Defense.
A more appropriate tag for them now might be the Bruise Brothers. After playing six games in three days in last week’s Fountain Valley Tournament, including the showdown with Moore, Palos Verdes’ defenders are banged up and battered. For evidence just follow the big red welts and cleat marks on Swartz’s shins.
“It was a grueling tournament,” said Swartz, who usually draws the task of playing shadow to the opponents’ most dangerous attacker--and paying for it.
“But it’s worth it,” he said. “We just hate it when the other team scores on us.”
Antrobius could say the same. The junior goalie has posted 13 shutouts, and his slow feet occasionally betray his slightly unpolished technique, he has sprawled across the net for plenty of brilliant saves.
If opponents could find a way to get the ball past Antrobius, they might find a way to beat Palos Verdes. But Antrobius’ junior varsity teams had a combined record of 51-0-5, so the lanky junior has yet to suffer his first loss in the Sea Kings’ goal.
“I’m going to try to avoid that first one at all costs,” Antrobius said. “I think if that happened, it’d make me feel just a little ticked. I’m not used to losing.”
Antrobius has been getting a lot of help from his friends.
Swartz, a second-team All-CIF defender last year, has been nothing short of brilliant this season. Swartz isn’t exactly a blaze of speed, but he has a tremendous knack for frustrating forwards with his tight marking. He refuses to give ground.
“He’s a calculating defender,” King said. “People aren’t just going to get by him with a fancy move. If he’s seen it once, he stores it away in his memory bank and it doesn’t work twice.”
With Swartz in the center of the defense, forwards tend to think twice about taking a ball up the gut toward Antrobius. Senior sweeper Sean Hungerford gobbles up any strikers or loose balls that get through.
The defense is equally tough on wingers. Outside fullbacks Danny Richmond, Tor Danna and Leo Lundy are fast, tenacious and opportunistic. Early this season against Bishop Montgomery, Danna tapped away a kick that had sailed past Antrobius on its way to the corner of the net and deflected it with his leg.
In Palos Verdes’ defensive scheme, everybody covers someone else’s back. Like the U.S. national team, the Sea Kings have courted a disciplined man-to-man approach with tight control up against front-line attackers.
“You can’t call yourself a right fullback in our defense,” King said. “Because as soon as your man goes to the left you’ve become the left fullback. On runs, you stay with your man all the way from side to side.”
The strategy of man-to-man is risky only when opposing forwards and midfielders suddenly trade positions in the attacking zone. The switch can expose a seam in the defense if defending halfbacks don’t rush up to fill the space.
Palos Verdes also has a way to thwart the speedy forwards that try to blitz full-tilt through a pack of two or three defenders. Swartz called it Palos Verdes’ “containment policy.”
“If you can’t get the ball away from the guy, you just try to slow him down until someone else can help out,” Swartz said. “That’s better than going for a flashy tackle and missing the ball and giving up a breakaway goal. Just try to get in his way.”
This afternoon at 2:30, visiting Santa Monica (12-0-2) will try to get in the way of Palos Verdes’ perfect season. It’ll be the first of two tough match-ups between the Bay League powerhouses.
Swartz and Antrobius feel that if they can beat Santa Monica, they can get past anyone.
“If we go undefeated in league, there’s a distinct possibility we can win it all,” Swartz said. “That’s what motivates us. We’re already close to eclipsing our school record of 19 straight wins set last season.”
“It’s been a little hectic the last couple of games,” Antrobius said. “But we still won the last tourney with all the adversity. That shows you something.”
The Fountain Valley Tournament was probably the toughest test for Palos Verdes. The Sea Kings were matched against a trio of Orange County’s premier teams Saddleback, Mission Viejo and Santa Ana--at a time when they were riddled with injuries.
Star midfielder Jim Miller, All-CIF last year, was lost for the year due to knee ligament damage suffered against Hawthorne. Kaemmerer (groin pull) and Kay (sprained ankle), Palos Verdes’ leading scorers with 12 goals apiece, were also slowed during the tourney.
But Palos Verdes got past Mission Viejo and Moore, 1-0, on a goal by reserve midfielder Al Lindsay. Lindsay scored another winning goal in the Sea Kings’ 1-0 victory over Santa Ana in the final.
The Sea Kings outshot Culver City, 3-0, in the final of the South Bay Alliance Tournament, then gunned down Simi Valley by the same margin for the South Torrance Christmas Tournament title. During the summer, the Sea Kings swept the L.A. Games honors.
One major reason for Palos Verdes’ success this year is that most of the players have been teammates on Palos Verdes Raiders club teams, some for as long as six years. Antrobius, one of only four juniors on the team, played on a lower level Raiders team, but Swartz and most of the seniors are Raiders veterans.
Antrobius is a three-sport athlete. He was a hard-tackling cornerback and flanker on Palos Verdes’ football team and is a catcher in baseball.
Swartz plays only soccer, but he’s versatile in other ways. He has a 4.0 grade-point average, is the editor of Palos Verdes’ school newspaper and is a non-voting student member on the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board. He wants to pursue a medical career and is aiming for Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford or one of the University of California schools.
King said all of his varsity players have the potential to play soccer in college. Kaemmerer is a major college prospect and is considering UCLA and Stanford, and there could be several Palos Verdes alumni on Division I and II rosters in the next few years.
Since King started the Palos Verdes soccer program in 1972, many of his players have gone on to college stardom. Dom Militello was a star at El Camino and Nevada-Las Vegas. Chuck Swanson, Militello’s teammate on the 1985 squad, was a four-year starter at UC Santa Barbara. Another 1985 graduate, Billy Charles, has returned to Palos Verdes as its defensive coach.
Every year about 40 alumni turn out for Palos Verdes’ annual alumni game on Thanksgiving morning. The oldest regular player is Rich Heffernan, a 1974 graduate. This year’s alumni game drew about 200 spectators on a cold, blustery morning.
“Some of them are lawyers, some are in business, some are still in school,” King said. “But it’s always a real clean, fun game. We never use a referee. All the calls are made by the alums and the varsity players.”
King isn’t anxious for any of this year’s varsity players to join the ranks of the alumni.
“From an old coach’s standpoint, they’re all the best,” King said. “I enjoy going to practice with these guys and that’s all you can ask.
“But they become a part of you. They’re going on and they may not come back. But if they do, they’re going to make a great alumni team.”